We arrived in Medellin at around 10 at night after a really quick flight from Bucaramanga. I think it was 40mins in total which meant the flight was much quicker than both the bus journey preceding the flight and getting from the airport into town! The flights, booked in advance, were only £19 each including all taxes and extras. We were staying in the El Poblado area around the Zona Rosa which is a popular place for backpackers to stay in the city. There’s loads of nice bars, clubs and cool little cafes around this area and it was great for going out.
Despite Medellin’s past reputation as the murder capital of the world (only 15years ago), compared to Bogota we both felt it was safe and we definitely felt more relaxed whilst out than in Bogota!
On our first day we decided to explore so we hopped on the Metro which is the most efficient way of travelling around the city. We did the cable car ride up to Parque Arví which was worth it for the views of the city alone.
The cable car also takes you over some of the city’s poorest barrios which run high into the hills. The views at the top of the cable car are amazing.
We got off at Parque Arví on what was a scorching hot day. It’s meant to be a place where you can go hiking and picnic with lots of forest and trails but we walked around the woods for a few hours without really having a clue where we were going or what we were doing as we couldn’t understand the daft little map they’d given us at the entrance to the park, which was pretty unclear and gave no info. Despite this, it proved to be a picturesque escape from the city which felt a million miles from the Parque Lleras bars and must be a blessing for locals wanting a change of scenery in minutes.
We met a Spanish guy on the trail who was also a bit lost so we wandered around together then decided to catch the cable car back together for a drink in town.
That night we went out in Parque Lleras where a big screen had been erected in the middle of the square for the Colombia v Chile Copa America semi final. The atmosphere was really good with loads of Colombians and tourists kitted out in yellow Colombia football shirts, watching the match drinking and chanting. It was definitely the first time since being in Colombia that we’d seen so many tourists together in one place (even though the majority of the crowd were Colombian).
The next day we did the free city walking tour with Real City Tours which I would definitely recommend to anyone visiting Medellin. The guide was amazing and you get taken around downtown Medellin and learn loads about the history of the country, the politics and corruption both before and during Pablo Escobar’s time – really interesting stuff! It’s about 4 hours long but not boring at all.
The tour gave us the chance to see some sculptures by Medellín’s most famous artist, Fernando Botero, who created artworks for the city – that’d be worth millions.
One of the sculptures, entitled The Bird of Peace, was, ironically, blown up by a guerrilla terrorist in 1995, killing 12 people.
Botero agreed to provide a new version of the statue, on the condition that the old sculpture would remain, as a reminder of the old Medellín, alongside the new version that represented the hope for the future.
What stood out most was how the worst areas of Medellín have been turned around to become important areas in the new city. For example, a downtown area now known as the Park of Lights, that was once rife with crime, drug dealers and prostitutes, has now been installed with light sculptures that represent the hope of the city whilst providing a light source at night that makes it a lot less desirable for those up to no good!
The people of Medellín are so proud to see tourists in their hometown when it would have been unthinkable to have so many visitors before the turn of the century.
After the walking tour, we headed to science museum and aquarium Parque Explora – number three on Trip Advisor for things to do in Medellín and a good way to spend a few hours in the city.
There are lots of hands-on exhibits and also a section on the reptiles and amphibians of Colombia.
Medellin was also the place in Colombia which, in our opinion, had the best nightlife. We had decided to move hostels after 3 nights at Hostal Poblado Park (breakfast was amazing and nice staff but the room had a bit of a prison cell feel to it) to an actual hotel with a pool at the top end of El Poblado! The move turned out to be the best decision ever as the hotel (Premium Real) was lovely and the pool was massive and it worked out not that much more than our little room at the hostel!
That night we treated ourselves to a slap up steak meal at some nice restaurant and then went to meet up with some friends, that we had made previously on a night out in Bogota, for a proper night out on the town. We went to a couple of clubs that actually played some decent house and techno but the problem was they all shut at 4am. Wanting to continue partying, we managed to find out from some locals that the only after hours place to go was in Barrio Colombia which was a weird shopping centre a taxi ride away, that basically had loads of bars and clubs in it. We went and checked it out and stayed till 7am as there was nowhere else to go – wasn’t worth the effort though!
Other highlights from our time in Medellin, I would have to say, would be the next day whilst horribly hungover getting a massive Domino’s pizza (muh cheaper than in England) delivered to the hotel room as we both couldn’t move from going out the night before! The caramel doughball desert we got with the pizza was also a dream!
In terms of sightseeing, we also visited the Botanical Gardens, which fills a few hours if the sun is out! It was disturbing to see people pulling on the tails of the massive lizards that roamed freely around the park, but the butterfly enclosure was more pleasant!
One of the butterflies (below) looked like both a owl and a snake’s head, to warn off predators I suppose. Nature is nuts.
The worst thing we did in Medellin by far was the Pablo Escobar tour by Paisa Road. We did this on our last day after a week in Medellin. We were really looking forward to doing the tour but it wasn’t that cheap (50,000 pesos each) and you basically got drove around Medellin in a sweaty minibus for 3 hours whilst the guide talked at you in a really bored sarcastic tone! We saw some of his properties and where he got shot and visited his grave but really it was a massive waste of time and money. Read my TripAdvisor review here.
To mix things up (and stay close to the Metro for the final night), we stayed at Black Sheep Hostel which was a great place to stay (clean, good crowd) and had a big TV for watching the embarrassment of England’s loss to Iceland in the Euros!